OC Cheesecake Factory Restaurants Dinged in $4.5 Million Wage Theft Case

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What’s a more staggering number for the Cheesecake Factory than the calorie bomb counts of its namesake desserts? $4.57 million! That’s how much the state of California announced yesterday that it’s holding the company and its subcontractor liable following a three-year wage theft investigation that targeted a number of restaurants in Orange County. 

The Cheesecake Factory subcontracted with Magic Touch Commercial Cleaning for janitorial work when the probe began. It found that 559 janitors routinely worked graveyard shifts without proper meal and break time periods. Investigators also found that Cheesecake Factory kitchen managers held the subcontracted staff at the end of eight-hour shifts to review their work and assign touch up tasks that amounted to 10 hours of unpaid overtime a week. 

Most of the wage theft violations occurred in OC restaurants. The Cheesecake Factory locations at the Brea Mall, Irvine Spectrum, Huntington Beach’s Bella Terra Mall, The Shops at Mission Viejo, and Newport Beach’s Fashion Island all came under investigation. The other three restaurants listed by the Labor Commissioner’s office are in San Diego County. The Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, a janitorial industry watchdog group, represented workers who participated in the probe.

In wake of its findings, Magic Touch Commercial Cleaning owner Zilma Villegas must pay $3.94 million in wages owed to affected janitors. While the commission conducted its investigation, Villegas changed the company name to Z’s Commercial Quality Cleaning in Dec. 2016, but that won’t let her off the hook in any way.

“We take matters of this nature very seriously,” Sidney Greathouse, Cheesecake Factory’s Vice President of Legal Services, said in a statement to the Weekly. “We are continuing to review the allegations and will respond to the wage citation within the time provided.”

It’s not the first time the restaurant chain has subcontracted with wage-thieving janitorial companies before. In 2007, its contractor at the time owed $14 million in back pay. Three years later, janitors tried to recuperate unpaid wages through a civil suit against All American Maintenance. But being found liable alongside a subcontractor is a first for the Calabasas-based company. 

“At Cheesecake Factory restaurants, stolen wages are business as usual for contracted out janitors,” Lilia Garcia-Brower, MCTF executive director, stated in a press release. “This time is different. Because of new laws in the state, the Cheesecake Factory will also be held accountable for the stolen wages of the people who clean their restaurants.”

That’s thanks to Assembly Bill 1897, signed into law by governor Jerry Brown in 2014. The legislation amended the state’s labor codes to hold companies like Cheesecake Factory jointly liable for unpaid wages from subcontracted work carried out on its premises. 

“This case illustrates common wage theft practices in the janitorial industry, where businesses have contracted and subcontracted to avoid responsibility for ensuring workers are paid what they are owed,” said labor commissioner Julie Su in a press statement. “Client businesses can no longer shield themselves from liability for wage theft through multiple layers of contracts. Our enforcement benefits not only the workers who deserve to be paid, but also legitimate janitorial businesses that are underbid by wage thieves.”

A day’s work for a day’s pay? Now, that’s easier to understand than Cheesecake Factory’s infamous menus!

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